Dann Paquette and his wife Martha are the creative force behind Pretty Things – a cuckoo brewing pair who refer to PT as a ‘Project.’ Inspired as much by Yorkshire (where Martha hails from) as their USA homeland, Dan certainly feels that – for the time being, anyway - there’s only one way they can brew; Cuckoo. ‘One great thing about this sort of brewing is that you can fold shop up neatly and move on with your life if you want to. There are no tanks to sell, no debt. Not that we’d want to! But that is a thought we've had at the back of our heads throughout this business - we can fail and walk away not having lost anything. That allows us to be out on a limb like we are.’
Dann’s clearly passionate about Pretty Things’ interesting, rustic beers but tempers that passion with solid, almost-obvious clarity. ‘I'd much rather have my own brewery. But we started this business for $9,000. You can't build a brewery on any scale for that.’ When I asked whether he would recommend it as a choice, the reply was firm: ‘No. I would recommend the traditional route which allows you to be completely in control. At the end of the day we're guests in someone else's brewery and only have limited influence on how that brewery works. A brewer's nature is to want to be in control.’
Despite that, PT seems very much a ‘family’ operation; albeit one without a permanent home. ‘Martha and I brew and oversee fermentation. We also have all of our own relationships and purchase raw materials. Lastly, we draw all of our labels ourselves. The host brewery lets us use their brewhouse and they package the beer for us.’ Cuckoo Brewing seems just as hard a task as regular brewing; but some still seek out the Cuckoo way regardless of the toil.
Mikeller’s Mikkel Borg Biergso has been cuckooing since 2007 – in fact, it would be hard to imagine Mikeller doing things any other way; Cuckooing is very much Mikkeller’s trademark. Mikkel says the secret of his success is simply hard work. ‘It’s a lot of logistics. I work A LOT and I work with good people. But it’s hard sometimes to make everyone happy.’ So, I asked, why not get a permanent home?’ It’s not as much fun.’ Mikkel replied. He refers to his trade as ‘Gypsy’ – a term which I actually prefer; simply due to the implied romance of it. Implied or not, the romantic view clearly dissipates once it becomes clear how difficult it is to keep a lid on the operation. Despite it’s hardships – and bear in mind the size of Mikeller’s operation – Cuckoo Brewing is still the only way to go for Mikkell, and behind those experimental gems we’ve come to expect form Mikkeller sits sheer hard work and a level-headed resolve to make sure all the ends meet, the planets align and the Beer ends up in your glass. ‘I like the freedom. With the loads of work my life is very different than my brewing. I really have to stay focused to work it all out.’
So what does the future hold for our brewers? For Steel City - more brewing, and perhaps a departure from the style that’s made them infamous. ‘We want to try some more styles; we're looking at an Alt and a Kolsch in the summer, and maybe a Weissbeer in the Autumn. Although we're known for our pale hoppy beers, our stouts actually get better feedback than our pales! We're building up a solid base of repeat customers, and we're looking at palletised deliveries to London in a couple of months. We've also bought some keykegs to export our beer to Italy and eventually USA. Our mini-kit (basically a 10-gal boiler and fermenter) means we can brew single firkins, so we can brew more extreme styles without worrying about selling a whole brewlength - so far we've done an 8% imperial stout, and are currently brewing a series of single-hop IPAs.’ In fact, a Black IPA brewed in collaboration with Otley should be being brewed as you read this.
As for Revolutions, their 2011 should hopefully see a permanent home; and along with that expansion in beers, distribution and a (if you ask me) a growing reputation. Ditto for Pretty Things; although they will remain Cuckoo for the time being. ‘We're trying to keep up with demand and keep it fun at the same time. Lots of great seasonals are coming back like Fluffy White Rabbits, Babayaga and American Darling. We've also got a really interesting historical beer in our "Once Upon A Time" series coming out in May.’
Steel City, Mikkeller, Pretty Things and Revolutions are planning ahead, there’s no slow-down here despite not brewing in the traditional way. Perhaps therein lies the beauty of this way of working: whether Full-Time brewer, Cuckoo Brewer, or even Homebrewer – that buzz, that tingle of pride as someone enjoys your beer, is the true spirit of brewing.